Volume 3, No. 9, September 2021
Editor: Rashed Rahman
Are America’s misgendered youth being prepared for roles as foot soldiers in a new drive to hegemony? Is the LGBTQIA+ movement the next phase in imperialist hegemony? On the surface it would seem the obvious answer to that is, of course not. Dig a little deeper, though, and it’s easy to see that the movement as it exists today is rife with the pathologies of modern American (US) thinking, including exceptionalism and a dogmatic – often narcissistic – insistence on the universality of their views.
For people familiar with the banal and lopsided conversation surrounding gender, cultural appropriation and race that passes as leftist discourse in the modern US, I should make clear that my concerns arose because of an incident that itself was not widely reported but that identified some troubling trends.
Last year, a young Chinese woman, who was born in France, raised in Beijing and recently emigrated to the US, had to withdraw publication of her fantasy (yes, like Lord of the Rings fantasy) novel after a social media outcry by black Americans who described her book as racist. Why? Because her fictional society depicted a slave system and black Americans were outraged that someone could write about slavery without understanding the African American experience or indeed being African American. Some said slavery has never existed anywhere else. Others said, “If you’re not black, don’t write characters who are.” (On a note, she didn’t).
The limited horizons of modern American (US) thinking are on full display here in their inability to comprehend the outlook of a truly global citizen whose opinions and views encompass a range of cultures and experiences that they have no access to in the insular environment of ‘America first’. As the sociologist Alex Carey noted, the US would not be able to enter foreign misadventures if its population was half as interested in the world outside its borders as they are about their neighbours’ comings and goings.
Even though the young author’s fictional system of indentured serfdom was based, as she said, on the history of serfdom in Russia and East Asia, she pulled her book from publication and hired a ‘sensitivity reader’ to go through it and correct any phrases that might offend American (US) sensibilities. The sensitivity reader being a 25 year old black non-binary who works as a PR consultant and sells his identity to corporations so that they hire him for pithy roles like ‘sensitivity reader’.
Is this the death of the imaginative process? Can I not imagine or attempt to write a black character because I’m not black? Or a Punjabi character because I’m not Punjabi? Or write about anything that other people may feel or think because I’m not specifically from their racial or ethnic group? More importantly, how is an American who can’t find Pakistan on a map and thinks history began in 1776 supposed to judge my empathic abilities or my identity? And soon enough, opinions?
What this comes to is not only limiting the imaginative process to your own highly personal experience, it also excludes writers and opinions from other countries from being published in significant markets like the US and Europe.
It means that controversial and thought provoking writing that contradicts the American (US) way of thinking will become increasingly difficult for publishers to touch.
Would Chinua Achebe be published in this environment? Or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Or Mark Twain? Could Virginia Woolf publish Flush, her imaginative autobiography of Elizabeth Browning’s spaniel, since she was not and could never be a spaniel?
In this context, the LGBT+ and minority rights movements as they exist today in the US appear misguided precisely because they are not demanding rights. Rather they are discussing privileges and using the language of rights. The redistribution of privileges, whether white, male, or other, essentially boil down to a single demand: a greater slice of the American (US) pie. The pie that is fed by the US’s imperialist and hegemonic economic activity and militarism.
That’s why you won’t see the LGBT+ community boycott the military. In fact they demand transformative surgery for LGBT+ members of the military who are ‘proud to serve’. It is why they burnish their credentials as Americans and insist on their political rights as Americans who believe in the principles on which their country was founded.
They aren’t concerned with justice for Iraqis or Syrians who are victims of the US’s wars, except insofar as it affects immigration policy. They will rarely criticise Israel because if you’re an Asian non-binary, working as a secretary at the AIPAC political office in New York, you can’t afford to lose your job. It doesn’t matter to them that the groundwork is being laid for the destruction of Iran, because the ‘Aya-tolas’ don’t allow gay marriage and are “brutally suppressing their own people”. Russia and China have been the most recent targets and the gender dialogue is effective at ensuring support for demonising these countries because their attitudes towards sexuality are not in keeping with the demands of activists in the US.
They are, in effect, as highly propagandised and exceptionalist as the majority of Americans they criticise and with even limited amounts of power have created a global discourse of political language that police stringently any other than the approved use of words. Tabdeeli? (Change?) Naya Amreeka? (New America?). Hail to the new chief, same as the old chief.
For Corporate America, this is a boon. A whole new market has appeared in which a single individual can become multiple consumers, because their multiplicity of identities requires fetishised merchandise that expresses each individual identity.
Suddenly a consumer market that had reached saturation can be subdivided, segmented and sold too, using highly personalised algorithmic social media marketing strategies. Makeup for male skin types and gender effective hormones are going to be a huge boon for the pharmaceutical companies. And soon the finance industry will start developing LGBT exclusive financial products linked to real estate, developing LGBT ‘friendly’ communities in major urban centres.
This is consumerism reaching its logical end, i.e. the commoditisation of identity, including gender. Something you can shop for and pick to suit your tastes, rather than something you realise and discover. Life is hedonism, the pursuit of immediate satisfaction, rather than a journey.
In many ways, this is a result of the breakdown of the American family (something that has been written about extensively) and the existing culture of self-interest and self-aggrandisement that is unique to the US’s civic life and is obvious to anyone who has spent a little bit of time there.
For billions of people around the world, our primary identification is with our families. We have large extended family systems and our identity is strongly linked to our parents, grandparents, friends and cousins, etc. This is anathema in the US, where family life may consist of one’s partner, but is more likely to consist of one’s affinity group. In the US, you can go for years without meeting your parents and friendships are transactional and formalised – now through a variety of mobile applications.
Corporate America, that conglomerate of a few thousand individuals that owns most of the wealth in that country in the form of their holding companies, also revels in the distraction these minority movements create. They know it’s easy to co-opt people who find their personal self-worth in the achievement of material and professional goals. They understand that they can buy loyalty or silence here.
The recent corporate support for the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was a case in point. By identifying race as the primary factor of social division, corporations were able to keep the focus away from the vast class disparities that exist and position themselves as defenders of the underprivileged. Discussions of class are dangerous but discussions about race and gender are an opportunity.
For the do-gooders, it doesn’t matter that the latest Transformers movie is another orgiastic glorification of US violence and militarism as long as it has one black, one hispanic, one gay and one gender disoriented character.
It is irrelevant if it reinforces the underlying assumptions about the US’s hegemonic goodness and the supremacy of its values, ideals and culture, so long as it doesn’t have offensive depictions of Native Americans and includes a shout out to gay marriage.
It doesn’t matter if the Pentagon specified every shot of every plane, aircraft carrier, ship, tank, soldier or boat to depict the military in the most positive light possible so long as the protagonist is any colour other than white. The voluminous consumption of the official version of events with regards to foreign enemies – designated by a corporate media circus – has almost Orwellian connotations in the ability of the state to shift public focus.
It doesn’t matter that the leading advocacy group for LGBT+ rights in the US, the Human Rights Commission, counts among its donors such luminaries of human rights as Northrop Grumman, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Chevron and Boeing. Feel free to Google it if you don’t believe me.
What matters is that the lead missile designer at Raytheon is a transitioning Latinx femme trapped in a misgendered male body that was assigned to them at birth and that they take home a big pay cheque, which can be used to prove that the movement’s lobbying is successful while some of that money is donated back. Remember, every private donation is matched and doubled by our corporate partners!
Hollywood studio executives, like photographers for corporate brochures, have become adept at casting to fill diversity requirements so that the gender-troubled, racially-charged market demographic of 16 to 30 year olds – who are by far the biggest spenders on movie memorabilia, merchandise, streaming services and ticket sales – will be ‘inspired’ to become like their favourite sexually ambiguous affinity symbol.
By doing so, these consumers can feel free to claim that they are healing themselves of ‘internalised whiteness’, or the ostensible structures of white supremacy that they see all around them. The fact that their lives are lived in a bubble of corporate profiteering that feeds the structures of imperialist violence around the world is lost on them. Most of them can’t find the world on a map.
The same lack of insight pervades the world of vegan and vegetarian dieting. Its practitioners claim to love the animal world but cannot see that their demands for specific dietary products in particular kinds of packaging have necessitated the creation of a separate supply chain of agriculture and processing that has led to more clear cutting and deforestation in countries like Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina, which are the major global producers of soybean products.
It is difficult for them to see that sustainable agriculture in countries like Afghanistan explicitly rejects ideologically driven diets. In such a pastoral and nomadic system, vegan dieting would require vast imports of food that would destroy the local economy and environment that has subsisted for millenia. It is another civilising mission that is blind to its own self-righteous destruction.
Black Americans who grew up in the suburbs suffering under the oppressive thumb of micro-aggressions like being asked by their ignorant classmates if dreadlocks originated in Haiti, ironically like their white American counterparts now claim one-quarter Ghanian, one-half West Congolese and one-eighteenth Ibo heredity and wear traditional Asante clothes to school while berating white kids from Brooklyn for cultural appropriation because they listen to rap. Apparently the irony is lost on them.
Most recently I had the delightful experience of listening to a queer black femme talk about Sikhi after her conversion to Sikhism. She had the grace to acknowledge that “Sikhi” was strongly associated with Punjabi culture, but noted that while “She saw you, Punjabi culture, and I respect you, I’m black American and that’s a culture, so no thanks, I’m gonna do me.”
It’s almost too much to bear sometimes.